Looking forward, looking back

Snowdrops outside the house. It's been quite warm (high 30s-40s F) in the past few days.
Snowdrops outside the house. It’s been quite warm (high 30s-40s F) in the past few days.

A number of occurrences in the past week have gotten me thinking about the future. First of all (in the week, anyway, since it technically happened last week), I accepted the honor of being captain of W2 (the second women’s boat). This has meant a bit more extra logistical work than I anticipated (quite a bit more, unfortunately), but I didn’t want to turn down an opportunity for personal growth. I think our first outings have gone pretty well, though the first real test will come at the Newnham Short Course race next Saturday. The most critical race for us at this stage is a few weeks later, the Lent Bumps getting-on race, which will determine whether or not we get to participate in the Lent Bumps race (and if so, where we start).

I finally took the plunge and bought a Churchill scarf and a onesie (for separate reasons). My face is reflecting my opinion of the sartorial choice of wearing them together.
I finally took the plunge and bought a Churchill scarf and a onesie (for separate reasons). My face is reflecting my opinion of the sartorial choice of wearing them together.

On the research side of things (which takes up much more of my life/time/energy than the blog space I devote to it probably suggests…it’s just not very photogenic), I met with my supervisor and made some pretty solid short-term and long-term plans. Basically, we decided I should be done with my experiments (the data collection part, anyway) by the end of February, which is alarmingly close now that I think about it. The longer research timeline calls for me to be done by the end of July (also alarmingly close), so we made a first-version outline of my thesis as well. Fortunately, my supervisor thinks my experiments are really exciting and going really well, and this should translate into a thinner and more interesting thesis than one that’s just about fabrication and the multitude of ways that things go wrong in the lab. Based on this meeting, I made preliminary plans for my parents to visit in June, which I’m looking forward to quite a lot! Hopefully I’m not so caught up in writing my thesis that I can’t take a couple of days off to go to Scotland with them afterward.

Speaking of Scotland...is that scotch I see at a formal place setting? (It is! See below.)
Speaking of Scotland…is that scotch I see at a formal place setting? (It is! See below.)

Six months. Give or take a week or two, that’s how long I have until my viva (the oral examination on my thesis and surrounding area of physics). Then a week or two at home, getting re-combobulated, and then I move to Cambridge, MA and start grad school all over again at Harvard!

Fellows walking into Hall to the sound of the pipes.
Fellows walking into Hall to the sound of the pipes.

The past week has also provided ample opportunities to look backward. For instance, last night was Robbie Burns Night! I’m so glad I get to experience life in a country where the life and works of someone known as “Ploughman Poet” are celebrated (even as far south as Cambridge). To mark the occasion, Churchill College hosted a formal on Saturday. Based on what I’ve heard from my mom (who spent a year in Edinburgh as an undergrad) and Scottish people at Cambridge, it was about as traditional as you could get. The fellows processed to High Table to the sound of bagpipes, and the meal started with cock-a-leekie soup (honestly, I liked my version better). Then the main event: a reading of Burns’ Address to a Haggis, addressed to a haggis, with dramatic stabbing at the appropriate moment.

Cock-a-leekie soup.
Cock-a-leekie soup.
Haggis! (Neeps and tatties not shown.)
Haggis! (Neeps and tatties not shown.)
Cranachan, which I may decide to make when I'm home next. It was delicious, and I think my parents would appreciate the use of scotch.
Cranachan, which I may decide to make when I’m home next. It was delicious, and I think my parents would appreciate it.

Our entree was a thin piece of roast sirloin topped with haggis, of course, and accompanied by neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes). Many people were a bit worried about the haggis, but it was actually incredibly delicious. As in, I went out and bought a haggis today so I could freeze it for later. Seriously tasty. We finished up the meal with some fancy cranachan, which I didn’t realize/remember had Scotch in it until the last few bites, but it was still pretty tasty.

The Cambridge University Ceilidh Band were kind enough to provide live music and calling for the dance.
The Cambridge University Ceilidh Band were kind enough to provide live music and calling for the dance.

The night wasn’t over with dinner, though, because afterwards there was a ceilidh! It was kind of a mess, because most of the people there were incredibly drunk/not paying attention and the space was too small for the number of willing participants, but we still managed to have a good time.

The ladies of Whittingehame Lodge at Burns Night.
The ladies of Whittingehame Lodge at Burns Night.

Looking a little less far back in the past: the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill is coming up, and I encourage anyone interested in the man and his place in history to check out this site, which was put together with a lot of help from the Churchill Archives Centre at the college.

Port Fort in the MCR last night.
Port Fort in the MCR last night.

Still closer to the present: I’ve been in contact with several classmates from Dartmouth recently, which is cool. One’s a physics PhD student at the University of Maryland; he came to visit the Institute of Astronomy here with his adviser, so we got tea in my lab kitchen and talked about grad school. I’ve also been chatting with various physics and non-physics classmates via Facebook, LinkedIn (which was surprising), and just by email. I want to do a better job of keeping in touch with people from Dartmouth and SLC, as part of a broader resolution to take better care of myself mentally in general. The last year and a half were pretty rough in a lot of ways, and I could have saved myself a lot of pain by telling people when I was lonely or sad or needed help.

An excellent selection of onesies and pajamas were on display.
An excellent selection of onesies and pajamas were on display.

Sometimes making an effort to take care of myself mentally/socially means going to formals or helping build a blanket fort in the MCR while wearing a onesie (which is what we did last night). Sometimes, it might mean sitting in bed and watching Wolf Hall (so far, so good) and drinking tea. It’s a bit late to say it, now that January’s almost over, but here’s hoping for a happy and healthy new year.

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